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Vertical Cinema (Maya Deren)

Maya Deren is most well regard for the avant garde films (with a strong sense of movement) she made in the 1940s and 1950s. She is recognized to be one of the pioneer in dance films. Undeniably, her films show a clear desire to tell stories through moves. I have become a fan quickly the first time I watched her first film Meshes of the Afternoon. Editing of Meshes is one that showcase an editor who understands rhythm innately. The original film was edited without sound. It was a silent film made by Maya and her first husband Alexander Hammid . Many years later, a score was created by Maya’s third husband, Teiji Ito. The clever use of juxtaposition between different shots create a magical world without using any special effects. A truly brilliant edit. Both sound and visual.

So what is vertical cinema?

Maya was also a film theorist. There was a record of an extensive discourse about Poetry and the Film: A Symposium (1953) between Maya and few other renounced artist, one of them is Arthur Miller. Here, she spoke about her theory on vertical cinema.  “The distinction of poetry is its construction (what I mean by “a poetic structure”), and the poetic construct arises from the fact, if you will, that it is a “vertical” investigation of a situation, in that it probes the ramifications of the moment, and is concerned with its qualities and its depth, so that you have poetry concerned in a sense not with what is occuring, but with what it feels like or what it means.” 

Many contemporary filmmakers and artist are influenced by Maya’s style. Barbara Hammer (an experimental filmmaker) speaks about how she adopt maya’s vertical cinema in her work.

Recently, a student ask a question about the rules and regulations for cutting a rhythmic video. The best answer can be taken from Maya’s quote: ” Whatever the technique, it must serve the form as a whole, it must be appropriate to the theme and to the logic of its development, rather than display of method designed to impress other movie makers.”

You can read about Maya’s film theory from her book.